Niraj Ruparel
Guest Article

Emergence of voice and audio

When devices powered by touch entered the market, they changed our lives as we knew it. Today, voice-run technology is making its way into almost every aspect of our lives, whether it’s our cars, homes, smart devices, white goods, ERPs and more. In fact, according to Google’s 2018 ‘Year in Search’ report, voice searches have been growing at an impressive 270 per cent year-on-year.

Sensing the opportunity, brands have jumped onto this bandwagon, and are now including voice as a discipline under digital strategy when imagining customer interactions. Today, voice assistants are more than just information touch points. They carry out functions such as turning lights on and off, hailing a cab, paying bills as per instructions, and adding items to shopping carts. As brands catch up with this technology, they are also thinking about it on a macro level, moving away from mere campaign based uses, to strategic platform thinking.

Niraj Ruparel
Niraj Ruparel

In order to help customers easily achieve their goals, brands are making use of voice technology to help with product comparison, cooking, return purchases, address grievances, up-sell products and a lot more. In fact, voice assistants have evolved to be smart and interactive, besides providing differentiated voice experience with audio content and voice overs to override default TTS (text to speech). Brands are also using voice for content marketing, in an audio format to create stickiness, engagement, and customer delight.

Brands are also going the extra mile to convert voice assistants into virtual sales persons offering customised selling experiences. For example, a credit card user might start by asking about an offer on travel, and then be engaged into a conversation about deals on hotels, local transportation, dining, and more.

Additionally, they have also been able to reach out to a whole new audience, by overcoming language barriers. As Google Assistant is available on lower models of smartphones, and Alexa functions in two languages, voice has solved problems that even web and digital could not. It has created a level playing field for customers speaking multiple languages. Through machine learning and artificial intelligence, it understands the customer’s intent, and is able to respond meaningfully.

Across our lives, voice has had a tremendous impact on the way we go about our daily routine. Right from managing navigation, audio entertainment, making calls, and carrying out basic commands such as turning on headlights or rolling down the windows, voice assistants can do it all. In such scenarios, brands have identified opportunities to plug their products and services, and meaningfully intervene, say by offering dining options, as a follow-up to a navigation command.

At home too, smart living as a lifestyle is quickly being adopted across the country. India observed an import of over 6.6 million Echo devices in the second quarter of 2019. The incredible ease with which people use voice assistants makes them universally appealing and acceptable. Imagine your hands are smeared with fruit pulp just as you setting the table for dinner and you’ve got to adjust the fan speed, all you need to do is give a voice command to take care of the challenge. With smart lighting and smart consumer durables, India is simply managing its resources through voice.

India is a country with multiple festivals and languages. No two Indian houses are alike and each has a creative solution to use voice commands that sprouts from the age-old habit of ‘jugaad’. Millennials seek help from voice powered assistants during a festival which could range from understanding the process of the ‘pooja’ or asking the device to play the ‘aarti’. Interestingly, one of the highest played titles on Alexa is the ‘Hanuman Chalisa’.

Second on the list is Hindi jokes, which streams on command from an entertainment website. Voice commands can also play full books, and songs when asked, turning the living room into an ambient atmosphere. Additionally, devices can also play podcasts by world leaders.

The education space too has caught up with the trend of voice commands. The audio-only format has proven successful in helping a child focus and retain information. To this extent, there is much scope for brand integration in educational technology, to explore a wide range of options. In addition, it is estimated that about 40 per cent of our learning happens either during meals or in the house in the evening or on weekends. This opens a window of opportunity for multiple categories to target different audiences. Companies can curate content that not only is for students but for their parents and teachers.

Voice technology is one of the most disruptive technologies of our time, and for a time starved urban dweller, it has become a way to be more productive. Through Alexa, which has become synonymous with voice assistants, consumers spend less time on apps and websites, enjoy simplified experiences, and increased efficiency. What was once considered a futuristic technology, is now here, and will only grow bigger.

The guest author, Niraj Ruparel, is national head - Mobile at Mindshare India.

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